On May 23, 2008, doctors diagnosed Bradenton mother Margaret McCulla with breast cancer. The next day, her 16-year-old son Greg was diagnosed with another form of the disease — Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Across town from their home, cancer survivor Greg Descent, of Parrish, learned of their plight and stepped in for some moral support.
Descent, owner of Northwest Collision Center in St. Petersburg, teamed up with The Children’s Dream Fund, a nonprofit organization that fulfills dreams for children with life-threatening illnesses, in an effort to put a smile on Greg’s face — and his mother’s by default.
The team, at Greg’s request, has spent months customizing his 2001 Chevrolet Camaro SS and, at 3 p.m. today, the remodeled ride will be revealed to Greg and his family at Northwest Collision Center on Tyrone Boulevard.
Since its inception in 1981, the Dream Fund, based in St. Petersburg, has made more than 1,600 dreams come true for children living in west-central Florida.
“We hope Gregory’s dream car creates memories to last a lifetime,” said Kristin Bedinghaus, Dream coordinator of The Children’s Dream Fund. “Dreams are the best medicine.”
David McCulla said his wife’s diagnosis hit the family hard. “She had to go straight to chemo because it was aggressive,” McCulla said. But when doctors diagnosed his son, the family was in disbelief.
“It was something out of the blue,” McCulla said. “He told me he had a swelling on his neck so he went to the doctor, they did an MRI and told him he had cancer. It was just like, what do you do?”
A few days later, his son began radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
The first two weeks after his diagnosis, Greg was in what his father called a “deep shock.” “His feet didn’t really touch the ground,” McCulla said. “He thought he was going to die.”
But his family and his medical team reassured the teen that would not happen. And just like his mother, now in remission, he hung on and fought the battle. In November 2008, doctors told him his cancer was gone.
“It’s been a year and a couple of months now for me,” Greg said. “I’m feeling pretty good.”
Greg learned about the Dream Fund from one of his doctors, Dr. Tung Wynn, of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.
His father said Greg felt he was more fortunate than others, and that they deserved it more, but Wynn kept pushing the teen. “I wasn’t going to sign up for it, but he pretty much encouraged me to do it,” Greg said.
The Children’s Dream Fund then asked Greg for his dream, secured sponsorships and donations to fulfill it and teamed up with Descent.
But when they first asked Greg, he didn’t know what he wanted.
His dad reminded him that his Camaro, which he bought when he turned 16, had a few bumps and scratches on it, and could use some fixing up.
Descent said he and another St. Pete bodyshop, Boulevard Customs, were obliged to help.
“This was a double whammy for them,” said Descent, who is also in remission from Hogkin’s lymphoma. “I’m a cancer survivor myself. By the grace of God I haven’t had to have the treatment, it just kinda went away and they can’t figure out why.
“This was just the right thing to do.”
Greg handed over his list and Descent went with it.
“We restyled the body, put some ground effects on it, repainted it and did some interior custom embroidery,” Descent said.
His polished ride also got a new set of sport performance tires.
Greg is slated to graduate from Braden River High School in June. He then plans to attend college.
His family, he said, is forever indebted to Descent and the Dream Fund. “He’s a great guy,” Greg said of Descent, adding that his family did not know Descent was a cancer survivor until sometime after they met him.
On Friday, Greg said he was antsy to get his car back.
“Definitely. I haven’t had it for a couple months and I’ve been borrowing dad’s car to get to school and back,” he said laughing.
More importantly, Greg said, his spirits are lifted and he’s inspired.
“That there are people out there to do things like this is so encouraging,” he said, adding it was his turn to pay it forward.